Eight years after last flirting with English football’s elite, last night saw Newcastle United secure a top five Premier League finish for the first time since the departure of club legend Sir Bobby Robson.
Fittingly, as was the case in Robson’s last full season in charge, it was a result at Anfield that sealed Newcastle’s fate. In May 2004 the Magpies clinched a UEFA Cup spot with a 1-1 draw at Liverpool, but it was Chelsea’s 4-1 defeat at the Reds yesterday which brought great celebration to Tyneside.
With a difficult final game away at Everton on Sunday it is a distinct possibility Newcastle will fall short of a Champions League place. However, no matter of Sunday’s result, it has been a remarkable season for a club who were playing Championship football only two years ago.
After a moving tribute to honour their former manager with a statue last weekend, it’s ever more fitting the club have now brought European football back to the ground Robson proudly called “the cathedral on the hill”.
It’s been a season that has restored the pride that Robson once instilled at Newcastle, with manager Alan Pardew, his backroom staff, the players, the scouting system and the board all deserving of great credit.
After lifting the Championship trophy in 2010 Newcastle secured their Premier League survival with relative ease last season with a 12th place finish. Any improvement this season would have sufficed as the Magpies rebuilding process continued under Pardew. But, to finish in the top five in only your second season following promotion is an achievement beyond all belief and one that will hopefully gain the national recognition it merits.
For all he won’t admit it’s plaguing his thoughts before the end of the season, Pardew will already be contemplating how he can match, or even surpass, the achievements of this astonishing campaign.
It’s the responsibility of the board to show the club’s ambition by rebuffing approaches for their star performers. In order to continue their pursuit of Champions League football you would think the likes of Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote and Fabricio Coloccini will all have to remain on Tyneside. It may be the case that one, or even two, of the above move on, but if the club don’t hold on to its core then there is little hope of even equalling this season.
To take the next step owner Mike Ashley and Managing Dirctor Derek Llambias know that renewed investment is crucial. Rarely teams gain further success without player recruitment, something Newcastle will undoubtedly undergo during the close season.
The scouting system, headed by Graham Carr, has unearthed some truly hidden gems from Europe this season, and it will be his protocol to continue this great work which has brought Newcastle immediate success.
For now though the management, players and fans can enjoy and celebrate a season that nobody would have dared to predict. The Geordie public are once again excited by what’s happening at their beloved club, with talk of relegation and hatred towards club owners seemingly a thing of the past.
There is still a slight chance of a Champions League place, but even the most optimistic of supporter will admit it’s a long shot. Falling short of Europe’s elite competition is no failure, and fans should take heart that their club are even being spoken in the same breath as Champions League football with only one game remaining.
Irrelevant of this Sunday’s result it’s been an astonishing campaign for all concerned at Newcastle, and one that will live long in the memory. Returning to former glories and restoring pride and honour, everyone on Tyneside will have a summer to enjoy before planning their much anticipated assault on European football next season.